The man who first discovered the best settled policy for England as a naval power was to attack her enemies’ colonies was a man connected with Wales by blood and by affection – the great Oliver Cromwell; and from his time onwards there is a great increase in the names of notable Welshmen engaged in consolidating England within, and extending her power without, whether as free lances, or as imperial servants, or as a combination of both, as was Sir Henry Morgan; and not only have such Welshmen, many of them Glamorgan men, had a share in such colonization but, unlike many whose names became more famous through their return to this country after their work was done, the tendency of Welshmen has been to settle permanently and usefully, in that part of the Empire toward the making of which they bore a hand. Such was the conduct of Sir Henry Morgan, as we shall see presently.
To glance for a moment at the historical setting of the time in which Morag flourished; this was roughly from 1660-1688. He was born in 1635, but his activities extend form 1660-1688, and this coincides with the end of the Protectorate and the reigns of Charles II, and James II.
Oliver Cromwell, both as an Independent in religion and as an antagonist of the Stuarts, who it may be fairly said were sympathetic to the religious views of Spain (Roman Catholicism), was a declared opponent of Spain, and in alliance with France, made war upon her. His policy was to attack the Spanish American colonies, and men like Penn and Venables (one of whose names has a Celtic ring about it) attacked and captured Jamaica, which form the centre of the Morgan story.
Now when the Stuarts returned under Charles II, the war against Spain was dropped officially. Nevertheless, it was easier to proclaim a formal cessation of war on a large scale than to enforce it in all the distant ramifications of English activities; and we find that from the time of Elizabeth to that of George II, intermittent war went on between England and Spain, prosecuted sometimes formally and in Europe, but more often unofficially, in the Spanish Empire of America. I should like you to remember that the very long time which news took to travel in those days made it difficult to tell when war was formally over at home, and when it formally began again. Cases there are, constantly, of fighting going on for months in the distant parts of the world after peace had been proclaimed at home; and it happened frequently that news of this peace reached a place, let us say like Costa Rica, after war had started again in Europe. That useful invention the telegraph has practically abolished the military freelance, and substituted in his place the official hero. Sir Henry Morgan was both, as it happens, and when brought to book for some of his actions after peace had been proclaimed at home, he declared with possible truth, that in the distant places in which he conducted his operations he had no official news.
Authorities are of two kinds. First, the State papers in the Colonial Office, the Record Office, and the British Museum – all of which I visited; secondly, there is the well-known book called the ‘Buccaneers of America,’ written by one who was actually serving under Morgan. This was Esqumeling, a Dutchman; his narrative of the proceedings is most picturesque. He had a grudge against Morgan for deserting his fellow pirates at Panama, of which I shall tell you, and he makes Morgan appear in a worse light, I think, than need be. Mr J. K. Loughton, in the article on Morgan in the ‘National Biography,’ has collected many of the facts of Morgan’s life, and set them out admirably and of course very shortly, as the nature of the work demanded. I am told too, that another has been written on the Buccaneers of Spanish America, and published during the three weeks; I have not seen this.
Now it would be quite outside the scope of a popular and comparatively short paper to give reasons for all the statement I shall make, many of them indeed, being highly debatable, because it is surprising how little is known of Morgan’s early antecedents. I can only boldly put down the conclusions to which I have come; and I may remark that about 1840 considerable attempts were made by interested Welshmen to discover anything about his early days in Wales, his pedigree, etc. An advertisement was inserted in the ’Merlin,’ a paper which circulated widely in South Wales, to gather from possible relatives of Morgan’s anything that might be known by way of family record. I am not aware that much success was attained in this line, collating the evidence of many letters which I perused, I suggest the following views:
Henry Morgan was born in 1635, the son of a yeoman farmer at Llanrhymni, which is on the boundary line, practically, of Monmouthshire and Glamorgan. His father’s name was Robert Morgan; and the Morgan’s of Llanrhymni were a branch of the great notable, and numerous family of which Lord Tredegar is today the head, there is no question about that. He was of what was called the Bedwellty or Penllwyn line, known later as the Morgan’s of Llanrhymni where his father’s brother, William Morgan was the owner of Llanrhymni Hall. I do not know whether that are still Morgan’s in Llanrhymni and St Mellons, but I believe there are memorials of them, or were some years ago, in St Mellons Church. Morgan was related to the great families of Herbert Stradling, and Mathew in Glamorgan and Monmouthshire.
The following is the current story of how Morgan went to the West Indies; but I say I disbelieve a great deal of it. It is said that, attracted early to the sea, he made occasional pilgrimages to Bristol, which was then the greatest port in England for the American trade. Thither came the sugar and cotton from the Continent, and there came too such black servants as were not uncommon in large establishments in England. While at Bristol one day it is said that Morgan was kidnapped and taken off to Barbados as a slave for a limited number of years. I cannot go into the question of white slaves here except very shortly. Looking up a work entitled “The Present History of Jamaica,” which is mainly a code of Jamaican laws, published in 1683, I found an Act which expressed anxiety that as many white men as possible should be landed in the West Indies and sold there as slaves; moreover captains and owners of ships which brought fifty or more such kidnapped whites should be free from such impositions as harbour and shipping dues at the various ports. These slaves were sold, and had to serve a period of at least three years, when from their savings they could purchase their freedom at a fixed price and proceed to settle down in the island. The condition of such slaves varied with the nature of their owners. Among the names of residents of Jamaica and the other islands are literally scores of familiar Welsh names, and this indeed looks as if such people arrived there by the method of kidnapping on the Welsh coast or at Bristol.
Well, Henry Morgan was supposed to have been kidnapped, but as against that I want you to look at the following facts:
He did not, as far as I can see, leave England until 1659, when he was 23 or 24 years old.
His uncle was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica in 1664; five years after Morgan went out.
This appointment must have been due to the prominence in Jamaican affairs for many previous years; a man is not appointed haphazard to a post of that sort. Moreover, several of the name of Morgan are recorded as operating against the Spaniards in the West Indies at that date. The conclusion I have come to is that Morgan went out deliberately to seek his fortune on America and for this reason the Llanrhymni estate was never very large, and at this time it was mortgaged heavily. Moreover, curiously enough, among the Morgan’s in Jamaica now was one called Bledri Morgan, who, I believe, was the same man as prosecuted Colonel Philip Jones for alleged peculation of Royalist property after the Civil War, with which I dealt before. I believe that the cadets of the family deliberately looked to the West Indies and its possibilities of quick wealth to resuscitate their fallen fortunes. It may be indeed that Morgan was kidnapped and sold for his term of years, but henever was a poor man, and more, his name is mentioned early in company with one John Morris, as attacking the Spaniards at Vildemos, Truxillo and Granada.
Before I proceed directly with Morgan’s exploits, I wish to make a few remarks on the type of buccaneer under which he comes.
There are pirates and pirates, and these were buccaneers of a peculiar sort. I said that a struggle was constantly going on locally between Spain and England for the possession of the West Indies, and especially Jamaica, the ownership of which the Spaniards never formerly allowed to England. In Spanish America the fires were always smouldering and occasionally burst into full flame. The tradition of Drake and Raleigh was still strong, and inspired adventurous men with desire and the methods of swooping down on a Spanish town and plundering it. It was the bequest of racial hatred, of history, and of the erstwhile inquisition. Spaniards retaliated by attacking and burning such places as England had captured, for instance, Jamaica was burnt at this date 1665-1670. And occasionally Spanish aggression was so strong that considerable measures of retaliation had to be taken, demanding larger forces than were officially at the command of the Governor of Jamaica. But he was always had the wherewithal to remedy any deficiency in numbers or effectiveness. Escaped white slaves of all nationalities, or slaves such as were under contract to pay their late owners a ransom on prospect of which they had been set free, and with these, adventurers of every sort, such as Morgan himself, banded themselves into little communities within the community, and their professed object was to plunder the Spaniards.
Officialdom was not strong enough to do anything but wink at them and their methods; indeed, they were just the make-weight which kept the balance a little inclined in England’s favour as against the far outnumbering Spanish forces and people. Such a band of adventurers would procure a ship, by capture or purchase, would bind themselves together by the most solemn and dreadful articles of loyalty, appoint a captain, and for that, save the mark! – a chaplain, who held divine service om a Sunday; and they sailed for on their depredatory expeditions.Their morals were appalling their cruelty on an equality with that of their enemies; quarter from either side was as a rule out of the question; and having procured money, often enormous quantities of it, they would return to the island which harboured them, and to the delight of the innkeepers and tradesmen, spend it so freely that, as Esquemeling says, frequently the whole of the spoil of six months would be dissipated in as many days; it was a risky business, but there was a good deal to be made out of it for a steady man. Now it was these gentlemen whom the official representative of his Britannic Majesty called to his aid when the Spaniards had exceeded due to measure of their attacks. He sent for some notable buccaneer chief, who perhaps lived in the same town as himself, and commissioned him and his bravos against the Spanish. No pay or provisions were provided by the Government, but a kind of guarantee was given that any extra atrocity might be committed and no questions asked. The pirates were to keep the spoil. What the Governor did was to afford legal recognition of what was, as a rule, a dangerous business from the point of view of such international law as existed.
Now Henry Morgan’s later prominence was due to the notable expeditions which he carried out under this Government sanction. A buccaneer he already had been by choice, or perhaps by necessity, it was a trade in which any adventurous gentleman might engage. But with an official backing he surpassed himself; and here I take up his story once more.
Colonel Sir Edward Morgan, his uncle, held the office of Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica for one year, and then died. He was succeeded by Sir Thomas Modyford. Modyford, under stress of circumstances, into which, so to say, a Governor might fall through insufficiency of troops, ordered perhaps the most famous buccaneer chief of all, a man named Mansveldt, to retaliate against the Spaniards by attacking Curacao. At this time Mansveldt was Morgan’s chief and hero; and in the expedition which proved successful, Morgan commanded a ship in the buccaneer fleet, and displayed great gallantry. I cannot follow Mansveldt’s career in detail. Shortly after this exploit he feel into the hands of the Spaniards who was instantly executed him. But that particular buccaneer company then elected Henry Morgan for their Admiral, he is actually mentioned by this title in the State papers. Now he was leader of a desperate force, the strength of which varied with the need of its members, and at the head of this he proceeded to the notable exploits which I shall mention, three of them in details.
Upon Manveldt’s death Morgan determined to capture a whole island and make it is headquarters for his fleet. With this intent he took and tried to fortify the island of St Catherine; he even enlisted on his side the interest and subscriptions of West Indian merchants who competed with Spanish trade. But the Spaniards in overwhelming force retook the island. “Yet notwithstanding,” says Esquemeling, “Captain Morgan retained his ancient courage which instantly put him on new designs.”
It happened that Sir Thomas Modyford, the Governor of Jamaica, had heard of a projected invasion of Jamaica by the Spaniards, and he commissioned Morgan to sail about and capture Spaniards with a view of extracting information from them. This was Morgan’s opportunity.
He collected a force of twelve ships and about 700 fighting men, partly English, partly French, and, after a deliberation as to whether they should attack the great city of Havana in Cuba, or a town called El Puerto del Principe, it was held that Havana was too big a task for this little force. To Puerto delPrincipe, therefore, they went. This was a town so far un-assaulted by pirates, which carried in a large flourishing trade with Havana. As the buccaneer fleet approached it under the cover of night, a Spanish prisoner on board swam ashore and gave the alarm. The Spaniards instantly hid all their valuables, and made preparation for resistance with ambuscades, cannon, and a force of at least 800 men. All avenues to the town were blocked with tree-trunks. So Morgan landed, and was forced to make a detour through the woods. At last he and his force, “with drums beating and colours flying,” arrived at a plain in front of the town. Here they formed themselves into a semicircle and prepared to receive cavalry sent against them. The pirates were very dexterous with their arms, and slew considerable numbers of horses and men, causing the rest to flee to the woods and leave the town to Morgan’s tender mercies. The inhabitants, who had been left within the town, attempted some street fighting and obtained some success, the effect of which was to make Morgan issue a proclamation as follows; “If you will not surrender voluntarily you will soon see the town in flames and your wives and children torn to pieces before your faces.” The Spaniards therefore submitted, more especially as they hoped for a relieving force to arrive soon. The pirates thereupon locked up all the inhabitants in the churches and proceeded to pillage the town occasionally visiting the churches to torture their victims in order to discover where any valuables had been hidden. These tortures were ingenious and horrible. I have no space to describe them, and some of them defy adequate description. The upshot of the affair was that the whole city was held to ransom and produced 500 cows and 50,000 “pieces of eight” (which coin is roughly a dollar). This small amount from a wealthy town was scarcely enough to pay expenses, and caused dissension among the pirates, of whom the French contingent eventually left Morgan. But Morgan was glad to get even that much; and he feared the arrival of a strong relief party. The cows were killed and salted for use on other voyages. I give Esquemeling’s account of the proceedings, but another accounts states that 1,000 cows were taken. Incidentally Morgan was able to supply Modyford, the Governor, with valuable information as to an impending attack on Jamaica.
Morgan’s success at Puerto Del Principe in terrorising so easily a powerful town; induced the arrival of a large number flag. He appears to have been a man whose very personality inspired confidence. So he replace his deserted Frenchmen with English and some Dutch, and propounded his amazing intention of attacking the great and opulent town of Porto Bello. His men were alarmed at the magnitude of such a task; but Morgan in almost precisely the same words as Henry V, used long before at Agincourt; “If our numbers are small our hearts are great: and the fewer persons we are, the more honour, and the better shares we shall have in the spoil.”
He promised vast riches in event of success; and with none ships and 500 men, went forward to what his fellow pirates calls, “the incomparable boldness of the exploit.” For not only did this city contain a considerable regular garrison; but its approach was guarded by forts and castles which had to be taken first if any success was to ensue. Now in the fleet there was an Englishman who had been imprisoned in this very town and in its powerful castle, and therefore he knew the locality well. Leaving his ships, Morgan landed in his crews quietly in small boats. Led by the Englishman they captured alive the sentry who kept guard on the first castle.
From him, under the most horrible menaces, they discovered useful facts about the opposition, and they carried him to the castle walls and bade him call out to the garrison to surrender at once. For answer the castle fired off its cannon and alarmed the whole city. Howbeit, constrained by the deadly fear which the mere presence of these marauders inspired, the castle did surrender, and Morgan, to strike terror into the city, put all his prisoners into one large room and blew the whole lot up, castle and all, with gunpowder. They then hastily fell upon the city to prevent the Spanish following their usual custom of throwing all their valuables into wells and cisterns. But Porto Bello had an unusually determined Governor: he had retired to another castle, and it was necessary to dislodge him and his men.
This was a matter of exceeding difficulty. Again and again the pirates assaulted the castle, but without success, and they were almost in despair when Morgan, as usual, hit upon a brilliant plan. He had considered a dozen or so tall ladders, and catching scores of monks and nuns, with which these Spanish towns abounded, he made these unhappy people place the ladders and hold them in position while he and his men mounted them. Still the Governor resisted killing, perforce, numbers of his fellow-countrymen and women at the foot of the ladders. However, more were forthcoming and eventually the pirates mounted the ladders with fireballs in their hands, and compelled the garrison to surrender, all except the Governor, who neither giving nor asking quarter, was killed defending the last room.
So the castle was taken, and immediately after securing their prisoners, the pirates settled down to a regular riot and debauchery. Esquemeling says that had there been 30 courageous Spaniards in the town all the pirates could have been easily disposed of, such was their drunken stupor. For the next fifteen days the usual tortures were applies to every Spaniard who had not fled the district. News was carried to the President if Panama (the most important Governor in the Spanish Colonies) that Porto Bello had been sacked, and he prepared to advance to the rescue. Morgan instantly demanded 100,000 pieces of eight as ransom for the town, or else he would reduce it to ashes. By hook or crook this great sum was produced, and Morgan sailed away bidding a defiant adieu to the hesitating President of Panama, who amazed at the success of 500 badly armed men in taking such a town, sent a messenger to Morgan to ask how it had been done, For answer Morgan sent the messenger back with a small pistol and a few bullets, saying that there was the method, and promising to come to Panama within twelve months to fetch back his pistol. At this the President laughed, but Morgan, we shall see, was good as his word. From Porto Bello altogether 250,000 pieces of eight were taken as well as enormous spoils in kind, all of which were duly divided and instantly squandered and in Jamaica. No wonder that the good merchants of that island loved the buccaneers!
As a result of this expedition Modyford was exceedingly alarmed, and reproved Morgan for exceeding his commission; for it was a question what the Duke of Albemarle in England would think of the matter. Morgan however, in an official report, protested that he and his fellows (among whom was the John Morris I mentioned before) had treated the buildings of the town most tenderly, and had been particularly pleasant to the Spanish ladies. Modyford forwarded all this to the Duke of Albemarle, who evidently had a sense of humour. Besides the Spaniards had as yet refused a formal recognition of England’s possession of Jamaica, and Modyford urged that until this was forthcoming such reprisals were quite necessary. So Morgan’s roving commission was extended, and he next proceeded to ravage the coast of Cuba, Here he nearly net with is end, because his ship, during a drinking bout of the men, was blown up accidently by some drunken freak, Morgan and a few of his officers escaped. This Esquemeling alleges was the punishment of Providence on Morgan for a certain treacherous act towards a party of French buccaneers who he captured and sold as slaves.
After certain adventures of lesser note, including not a very successful attack on San Domingo, Morgan proceeded to attack the town of Maracaibo. It will be as well to pay attention to this feat, since it illustrates Morgan’s amazing ingenuity and his determination in the face of odds. Appalled by the danger of this task, several of Morgan’s captains had refused to take any part in the enterprise; but. Nothing daunted, at the head of 500 men and 8 ships, which carried 14 small guns, he attacked the proposition. On the way to Maracaibo, outside the lake, Morgan took a fort. The Spanish had fled at his approach, but with foresight, had placed in the fort a train of gunpowder timed to explode when Morgan arrived inside. Had not Morgan perceived the burning fuse, and with his own hand extinguished it, his career would have closed here. As it was he and his ships, proceeded through the narrow horns of the inlet, and landed in the town. This was all imaginable cruelty, was plundered. The largest church was made the headquarters of the pirates, and from there sallied forth all around the district, torturing the people to make them reveal the whereabouts of any treasure. Esquemeling gives a full account of these tortures. One was to stretch the limbs of the victims with cords and at the same time beat them with heavy sticks: again, burning matches were tied to hands and faces; others were suffocated, and there is a whole nauseating list of such practices. Naturally booty came in rapidly at Maracaibo, and the inhabitants of the neighbouring town of Gibraltar made good their escape: the few that were captured in that town, including one unhappy and semi-lunatic old man, were subjected to the most barbarous treatment. The whole countryside was scoured, the operation taking five weeks of concentrated murder, robbery and debauchery. Most of these weeks were spent in the immediate neighbourhood of Maracaibo where Morgan had left his fleet close under the town.
Judging that it was now time to retire, Morgan returned to Maracaibo to discover that the entrance to the inlet in which the town stood was blocked by three enormous Spanish warships which would require considerable dislodging, as their guns were much more powerful than Morgan’s. Our Glamorgan man was apparently trapped; and to gain time, entered into negotiations with the Spanish admiral, and actually demanded a ransom for not having as yet set on fire the town of Maracaibo, threatening, moreover, to do so if such ransom were nor forthcoming. Esquemeling gives in detail the reply of Don Alonso, the Admiral; roughly, he invited Morgan to come on and try and get out of the harbour. A meeting of the pirates was held, and one genius suggested the plan of sending a fire-ship to set aflame the three Spaniards which blocked the narrow passage. This was done: a vessel was filled with inflammable material, counterfeit cannon were ranged upon her deck, and dummy sailors were places in prominent position on board. Morgan made one last effort to bring Don Alonso to terms, and upon his refusal to hear anything but the surrender of the whole gang, the pirates, on the30th of April 1669, the fire-ship leading, bore down upon the three Spanish men-of-war. It was evening, and for some reason of other Morgan decided to just keep clear of them for the night; but at dawn he attacked them directly. The fire-ship exploded and set aflame the Spanish Admiral’s flagship; the second ship fled across the harbour and was sunk by her own crew to prevent her falling into Morgan’s hands; the third was captured, Morgan heard that the sunken ship had contained much treasure, and instead of stealing out the harbour, he fished up from her all the plate and money he could. Meanwhile such Spaniards as had escaped had taken up a position on a fort commanding the same entrance into the harbour; when the pirates, after repeated attempts, could not dislodge them.
Morgan, therefor, by his own rash dilatoriness found himself in a worse predicament and got out of it, and out of the harbour in a most ingenious fashion. His men were now on board the fleet in the bay, and Morgan, securing a large number of small boats filled them with his men and rowed them towards the fort., landing them at dusk on the shore hard by. The boats were then rowed back for more men until Morgan had apparently landed all his force. This made the Spaniards, with great effort, train their heavy fort-guns on the spot where the landing had been effected. This is what Morgan had hoped for, because, in the boats that had returned apparently empty to the ship to get more men, there lay at full length in the dusk all the pirates that had been conveyed to shore. Thus Morgan had really landed nobody, and when the Spaniards had, with great difficulty, fixed their guns in quite the wrong direction, Morgan sailed out of the harbour entrance with an enormous plunder, partly captured, partly by way of ransom from prisoners and for the unburnt town, because Don Alonso had actually sent him 20,000 pieces of eight to make him stay his hand. The profits were duly divided and quickly spent in Jamaica, Morgan alone being prudent enough to put a good deal by.
Sir Thomas Modyford was again alarmed as this more than complete fulfilment of his instructions. However, as the Spaniards had in the past done considerable damage to British trade, and the Queen Regent of Spain had moreover instructed her Governor’s in Spanish America to prey upon the English as much as possible in those waters, not only was Morgan forgiven, but he was told to proceed on another such adventure, being given the title of “Commander-in-Chief” of all the ships of was in Jamaica. The State papers on the subject is very interesting: it amounts practically to giving Morgan a free hand in all Spanish America. No pay was to be given him or his fleet, but all that was captured would be his and theirs, according to their own buccaneering rules.
These were the conditions under which Morgan set out on his last and most famous exploit, which was none other than the capture and sack of the great town of Panama. During his stay at Jamaica, after the expedition to Maracaibo he had been besieged with applications from all manner of buccaneers to equip a new fleet and lead them in search of some other high adventure. They had spent all their money, and in fact were heavily in debt at Jamaica. Morgan found ready and able recruits among them, and made preparations for the perilous adventure. Cattle were killed and salted, enormous quantities of grain secured all along the coast (of course from the unhappy Spaniards), and Morgan drew up regular articles of service for his fleet, with terms for the division of what spoil there might be. He himself was to receive a one-hundredth part, surgeons and carpenters and captains and chaplains their fair share, and an equal division was to be made among the rest. The precise value of a leg, an arm, or an eye was estimated and to be allowed for to the victims in the final share-out.
It was debated whether they should attack Cartagena, Panama, or Vera Cruz, all of them enormous and wealthy towns; the lot fell upon Panama as being the richest. Morgan’s fleet consisted of 37 ships and 2,000 fighting men in addition to mariners and boys. All the ships were well armed, and the quantity of powder and bullets was enormous. The fleet divided into two squadrons, and en route for Panama they touched as the island of St Catherine, which Morgan at the commencement of this history had hoped to make a regular pirate island. At St Catherine the pirates met with considerable resistance and suffered a famine of food, but before they left they destroyed the Spanish cannon, collected what food and money they could by the usual methods, and took on board a few prisoners, who knowing the town and neighbourhood of Panama, would be of assistance in the venture. Morgan, too, sent a certain Captain Bradley of his fleet to take the Castle of Chagres, which was situated upon a neighbouring river of that time. This Bradley did, but at considerable loss to his detachment of 400 men, who felt the want of Morgan’s strategy. What with famine, pestilence, and sword, Morgan had only 1,200 men when on August 18th 1670, he set out up the river in small boats to Panama, leaving his fleet on the coast.
To carry much provision was out of the question, and Morgan hoped to find this one the way. Soon, at a place called Cruz de Juan Gallego the canoes had to be left, and the journey across country begun. Ambuscades were possible, and he had to walk warily. But there was worse than this; the inhabitants of Panama, when the rumour of his advance reached them, had carefully removed every vestige of food between the river and their town, a journey of several days. The buccaneers suffered the extremesthunger and privation. Esquemeling, who was among their number, records drily that “happy was he who had reserved since noon any small piece of leather on which to make his supper.” “Some persons,” he adds, “who have never been outside their mother’s kitchen, may ask how we could eat the digest leather so hard and dry.” The method was, first the necessity to eat it or starve; and then, even leather could be made palatable by roasting it on a fire and swallowing it with plenty of water.
The constant attacks of wild Indians were another terror added to the march. These, being more mobile that the pirates, easily eluded pursuit in an unknown country. All the villages through which Morgan passed were found to be burnt and denuded of all provisions. Rain poured upon the little army, their clothes were torn to shreds by the rough country, most of them became barefooted; and of a mutiny or a strike had been of the slightest use, mutiny or a strike there would have been.
Meanwhile, like the born leader that he was, Morgan kept up the spirits of his men by a hundred expedients and promises. Finally, when it matters were absolutely desperate, a herd of cattle was captured and killed.
The pirates fell upon the flesh and ate it half-roasted, presenting a horrible spectacle of bloodand gluttony. However, this put some heart in them, and indeed they were now nearing the city of Panama and began to see small bodies of Spanish horse sent out ass scouts. They had now been on the march a week, in which incredible hardships were suffered.
Presently they arrived at the top of a little hill, from which, upon a plain which encircled the fair city of Panama could be seen the glittering forces of the enemy drawn up, numerous, and with cannon. “Yea,” says Esquemeling, “few or none there were that did not wish themselves at home.”
Well, return was impossible, and they divided themselves into three battalions and hoped for the best. The battle was opened by the Spaniards driving out upon the pirates’ enormous numbers of infuriated bulls, which did as much damage to the enemy as to the pirates, who simply made way for them to pass. After two hours’ desperateencounter the Spanish cavalry were in full flight, 600 being left dead upon the field. This was only the first part of the drama, for Panama itself had yet to be taken, and it was a regular fortress.
Morgan approached it warily on its least dangerous side, and, to cut short what I am afraid is a very long story, he took Panama in three hours. It did not matter that the inhabitants had hidden all the treasure of Church, State, and private house: the pirates had their own methods if extracting information about these; and Morgan’s first move was to threaten to kill anyone of his own men who did not remain sober till the work was complete, because the Spaniards might rally and slay them in the cups. The usual tortures, and worse, were applied, particularly to the inhabitants of the religious houses: raping and murder ran riot, and the upshot of the whole matter was that somehow (Morgan always denied that he had anything to do with it) the city of Panama was set on fire. Esquemeling insisted that Morgan was the culprit, but it is hard to see what he could have gained from such a proceeding, because his custom was to hold a town to ransom under the threat of firing it.
In a most picturesque paragraph. Esquemeling describes the manner in which noble and artistic buildings, monasteries, cathedrals, warehouses, and palaces, perished by fire. Indeed, he paints Morgan’s character at Panama in the blackest of colours, and tells an almost incredible story of how badly Morgan had treated a beautiful city.
However, the burning of such a town was bound to route the whole of the Spanish coast of America, and Morgan made haste to collect all the money he could. Unfortunately for him, most of the gold and precious stones of Panama had already been conveyed to a huge Spanish galleon off the coast and had been taken of safely; but as it was the spoils must have been enormous.
After sending ships to discover, of possible, the whereabouts of the galleon (though in vain), Morgan and his men proceeded to the island of Chagres, which, it will be remembered, his lieutenant Colonel Bradley had taken. Here a thorough examination of the whole force was made to see that no one had concealed any valuables. Morgan himself being the first to submit to scrutiny. At Chagres division of all the spoil was made, and to the amazement of the pirates they received only 200 pieces of eight apiece.
They fiercely expostulated with Morgan, who was deaf to all their entreaties, and alleged that the division had been perfectly fair. Judging by the truculent attitude of his crews that his life was in danger, he secretly set sail for Jamaica, being accompanied only by one or two ships whose occupants, according to the pirates, had assisted him in swindling them out of their fair share. I cannot help thinking that Morgan was guilty of dishonesty here, because if 200 pieces of eight had been a fair share, it meant 200,000 worth had been taken. When we remember that more than this was taken from towns of mere insignificance compared to Panama, and when wefind that was Morgan’s last adventure of this nature, the whole circumstance speaks very strongly against him.
However, he returned to Jamaica, and I will quickly dispose of the rest of his career. He was thanked by the Governor and Council, but as during his absence at Panama peace had been declared between England and Spain without Modyford’s knowledge, both Modyford and Morgan were made to answer for the adventure. They were sent to England under close arrest, Morgan following Modyford in the “Welcome” frigate. Here, after due inquiry lasting over two years, during which Morgan is supposed to have been imprisoned in the Tower, they were quite righty exonerated from blame; and, moreover Charles II, sent for Morgan and was mightily pleased at the account of his doings. So much so that Morgan was named Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica, and was knighted.
On the way out Morgan was wrecked, but eventually landed in Jamaica, and lived there a life of luxurious and civic peace, commanding the forces when the necessity for defence arose. Indeed, for a short time, while Lord Vaughan was recalled to England, Morgan was left in charge of the whole island. He was particularly down upon pirates it is said, and his old crews, after his flight for Chagres, were in a most miserable plight, thoroughly chastened in spirit, and they drifted off into various contingents, which, lacking cohesion and an energetic leader, did no such mighty deeds as under Morgan’s captaincy.
Morgan did not live long: he died in 1688, aged 53, and there are various accounts of the manner of his death, some saying that he died in the Tower of London, others that he was executed by Spaniards, both statements being absolutely without foundation, for he died in Jamaica, quite a natural death, and was buried in Port Royal churchyard. He had married his cousin, Colonel Sir Edward Morgan’s daughter Elizabeth, who outlived him by twelve years. To her he left the bulk of his property, and as she was childless, after her to Charles Byndlos on condition that Byndlos changed his name to Morgan. Among his property he mentions by name his estate in the parish of St George’s “commonly called Penkaine.” “Certain moneys are to be paid through my honourable cousin Thomas Morgan of Tredegar,” and Morgan leaves something to his faithful “servant Evan Davies.”
When we come to examine critically his career ad qualities what do we find? These points, I think, according to our notions of humanity there is not the slightest doubt that he was cruel ad unscrupulous. But in comparison with such monsters of wickedness as some other pirates of the Spanish seaboard, for instance, the Frenchman L’olonais, or Bartholomew Portugues, Morgan was a saint. It must be remembered that in other times there were other manners, and the manners of the Spanish were quite as bad,
As a leader of men it is a question whether Morgan has ever been surpassed; this is proved by the success of his march to Panama in the face of stupendous difficulties. Brave himself, he seemed to have the capacity to inspire his followers with daring. His escape from Maracaibo and his many other well-planned schemes of offence and defence show him to have been a tactician and strategist of the highest order. He left a name at which at any rate the Spanish seaboard grew pale, and we men of Glamorgan can quote him with confidence as a hero whose exploits equalled those of the spacious times of Elizabeth.
His career has had a singular fascination for some people, and I end by quoting one of the many ballads referring to him:
You was a wise one Morgan!
You was a knowing knave,
When you was in your cabin;
But now you’re in your grave!
You was a flyer Morgan,
You was the lad in the crowd,
When you was in your flag ship
But now you’re in a shroud!
You was a stayer, Morgan,
You was the lad to go
Across the starving Isthmus
But now you’re gone below
You was a great one Morgan,
You was a King uncrowned
When you was under canvas
But now you’re underground